How did the SEC not get any competition from the Big Ten for Texas and Oklahoma?
Think about this: As Oklahoma and Texas put the finishing touches on a jump to the SEC that sent shockwaves through the college football community, what were some of the storylines that popped up?
The SEC is forming a super conference. The Big 12 is about to implode. A handful of Group of 5 teams would be a nice fit in the Big 12. The Big Ten could go after a few Big 12 castoffs. Maybe the SEC isn’t done at 16 and Ohio State and Michigan are going to make the SEC a 20-team Super League?
All of these storylines — and many more that I’m probably overlooking — came out in the week that followed.
You know what we didn’t hear?
“The Big Ten reached out with a last-minute pitch for Texas and Oklahoma to join the conference.”
That wasn’t a headline. For a brief moment in time, it seemed more realistic that Michigan and Ohio State could leave the Big Ten as opposed to Texas and Oklahoma joining it.
What a horrendous, but not surprising, look that is for Kevin Warren.
The Big Ten commissioner was, um, not exactly proactive about realignment in the days that followed the bombshell report about Texas and Oklahoma bolting for the SEC:
“I have not had any conversations myself about reaching out to schools or any schools reaching out to me.”
— Matt Schick (@ESPN_Schick) July 23, 2021
If you watched the NBA Finals, you saw what it looked like when defenders had to try to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in transition. That’s essentially been Warren throughout this process — on his heels and without answers.
It’ll always amaze me that there was never even a hint of the Big Ten swooping in at the 11th hour and trying to woo Texas and Oklahoma. Not even a leaked report out of Warren’s camp. Remember, those schools reached out to the SEC, not the other way around. It wasn’t as if Greg Sankey knocked on their door in the middle of the night and got them to sneak out of their house before the Big 12 woke up. These conversations reportedly happened over the course of several months.
Texas and Oklahoma clearly wanted out of the Big 12, and there was somehow never any desire from either school or the Big Ten to see if there was a potential fit.
That’ll always be baffling. If there was a documentary on the Big Ten’s involvement in all of this, it would be “Asleep at the Wheel.”
Warren is the same guy who led the league’s rogue approach to COVID, which proved to be a gigantic misstep. It needs to be said — Warren picked the wrong issue to take a rogue approach.
Oh, but the AAU accreditation. How can we forget about the ever-important AAU accreditation when we’re talking about conferences signing multi-billion dollar television rights deals? By the way, 13 of 14 schools have their AAU accreditation. Nebraska lost that almost immediately after joining the Big Ten.
If that’s really a holdup because Oklahoma doesn’t have its AAU accreditation, well, that’s about the most backward logic I’ve ever heard from the Big Ten. Rutgers got bailed out by the Big Ten because of its TV market (capitalism), but Oklahoma didn’t get a call because of some organization that determines if you’re an elite academic institution? And hey, it’s not like the B1G kicked Nebraska out of the league. Why? Capitalism.
(By the way, Nebraska did just fine after losing its AAU accreditation. It was shrugged off. A university engineer at Nebraska said 5 years later that “I believe it is correct to state that nobody (UNL faculty) really cared about AAU neither before nor after parting from AAU.” So there’s that.)
That’s why the SEC is running laps around the Big Ten in the biggest revenue-generating college sport there is. No, it can’t claim to have made more money off that TV deal just yet, but that’s coming.
You know a stat that nobody cares about? The only SEC schools with AAU accreditation are Florida, Mizzou, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. That’s 1 more than the amount of SEC programs that have made it to the College Football Playoff National Championship. Or there’s the fact that 11 of the past 15 national titles were won by 4 SEC programs.
If the goal is just to make money and brag about academics, sure, you could argue the Big Ten has found the best business model. That’s perhaps why Warren is content to stand pat and not seek alternative expansion options. You know, now that Texas and Oklahoma aren’t available. Notre Dame isn’t, either. It also isn’t in the AAU. If a report leaked that the Big Ten was actively seeking an agreement with Notre Dame, this would be a different story.
Nope. All we got was a non-answer from Warren at Big Ten Media Days:
Kevin Warren on CFB Playoff expansion: “Take appropriate time … to determine when the right time is and how we need to structure any potential expansion.”
— Matt Charboneau (@mattcharboneau) July 22, 2021
On Big Ten expansion, Kevin Warren says: “We’re at an inflection point in college athletics,” before deflecting. “We’re always evaluating what’s in the best interest of the conference.”
— Isaiah Hole (@isaiahhole) July 22, 2021
Cool. I’d believe Sankey if he said that he had “the best interest of the conference.” Would I believe Warren? Nope. Not after the way he let optics sway a monumental decision to cancel a 2020 season that had ramifications well beyond 1 individual season.
In a weird way, I can’t help but wonder if there was a bit of extra motivation to keep the SEC’s talk with Oklahoma and Texas under wraps with how Warren blindsided the rest of the Power 5 with the Big Ten’s announcement of a conference-only schedule at this time last year.
A year later, Sankey and the SEC blindsided the rest of the Power 5, most notably the Big Ten (and Big 12). Could the conference have pitched the financial benefits or the massive alumni bases with its member schools? Would there have been a different pitch if Jim Delany were still in charge? Or did Texas and Oklahoma not even consider the possibility of jumping for the Big Ten?
We might not ever have those answers. What we do know is that according to all parties involved, it was Texas and Oklahoma that reached out to the SEC, and the SEC did everything in its power to make it happen. It appears that the league got everyone on board. Even Texas A&M reportedly was aware of the talks to welcome the old Big 12 rival to the SEC.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten sat at home, idle. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered and the SEC still would’ve won out.
But in the end, the SEC appears poised to waltz into the end zone untouched. It’ll always be perplexing that the Big Ten never even made a play on the ball.